Voices: Karins and Associates sees growth as pandemic antidote
NEWARK – When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf decided to close the construction industry amid his state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Karins and Associates President Dev Sitaram worried that a snowball of such decisions would be a sizable blow to the engineering, planning and surveying firm’s revenues.
Thankfully, Delaware and Maryland allowed the trades to keep working and his 47-year-old firm endured year-over-year revenue declines of an estimated 15% in April.
The company made a commitment to not furlough or layoff any of its 56 employees at five offices during the pandemic, Sitaram said. Instead, Karins took the time to complete new staff training and standardize its filing systems across all offices, while also taking some speculative risks.
“We advanced some projects that we did not necessarily have in the books or were not authorized to work, and so that was a cost for the company,” he said, noting they chose projects they expected to advance as work ratcheted back up.
The firm’s foresight is why it has landed it on the annual Inc. 5000 list each of the last three years, ranking 3,546th last year with 99% growth over a three-year period to total revenues of $7.1 million in 2018.
Sitaram said that his firm sought to diversify its project portfolio after the 2008-09 Great Recession, when it was then-skewed toward residential projects, and also expand its reach. That recession more than a decade ago forced the firm to close a nascent Sussex County office.
Today, the firm still does more residential than any other project type, but it has increased its commercial, office, industrial and institutional portfolios as well. It has also expanded into Pennsylvania and Maryland, opening three offices across them with plans for more.
“When everybody was shrinking, we made a strategic plan to diversify,” Sitaram said. “In the next one to three years, our strategic goal is to grow in Pennsylvania, both with our two offices and maybe a third location more toward Harrisburg, and in Maryland with a second office closer to Washington, D.C.”
That growth may come organically, as two of its out-of-state offices did, or by acquisition of another firm, which was how it opened its first Pennsylvania office, Sitaram said.
“There may be some opportunities for us with the downturn, and we are well positioned to make an acquisition,” he added, noting a firm’s size, core values and work ethic are the traits Karins reviews closely.
Karins is also looked to offer new services, buying a drone in recent months to provide more value and efficiency for its clients. After the last recession, it bought a laser scanner to book new work with general contractors and historic preservationists looking for 3D scans of a building.
“We had never done projects like that before,” Sitaram recalled.
Although the firm is projecting lower revenues than budgeted due to the pandemic’s disruptions, Sitaram said that they were still looking to fill several high-paying jobs in its offices. He was especially encouraged by reports of increasing activity in the residential market, as homebuyers take advantage of historically low interest rates.
“We’re looking to grow because we are optimistic of what the future holds,” Sitaram said.
By Jacob Owens